Editor’s note: This series will allow you to experience a day in the life with various individuals throughout the UC Davis community. After spending time with Division I fans last time out, we’ll give you a taste of the Davis Motorsports Club today.
In a town full of bicycles and environmental friendliness, it’s refreshing to remember that there are still red-blooded, meat-eating, beer-drinking, sports-loving Americans out there.
For people suffering from this nostalgia, the recently inaugurated Davis Motorsports Club is proof that not everything has been lost to this organic-solar-powered-renewable-new-age California nonsense.
DMC’s official mission statement is to maintain motorsport enthusiasm in the Davis community. How do these patriots carry out their stated goal? Try waking up at 6 a.m. on weekends to attend autocross rallies – autox for short – all over the state of California.
Autox timed racing competitions occur in large, open paved areas where drivers try for their best times on a course situated by a vast multitude of cones. The cones are carefully laid out in a series of sharp twists, turns and slaloms.
We focus on autox because it’s the most convenient and accessible option for people developing an interest in motorsports. It’s where you start as an amateur, said founding member and club president Alex Kang, a junior economics major.
Cruising down Interstate 80 at 80 mph, Kang calls attention to his steering wheel.
Notice my steering column, I took out the airbag, Kang said. I’m very comfortable with my car. You really learn the ins and outs of your car when you’re pushing it to 110 percent.
The phrase 110 percent is one of Kang’s favorite expressions. He uses it to describe the distinctiveness of autox racing.
You can overdrive it, spinout, hit cones and make mistakes with no consequences other than lost time.
If you never spin out, you never know the limit, said Zep Brattesani, DMC regular and co-founding member.
Pulling into the parking lot of an event is reminiscent of a typical tailgating affair. People are milling about a sea of cars with tents scattered about, and to the casual observer, it looks like they’re waiting for the games to begin. But there is no grilling, no beer, no corn toss or ladder ball to be seen.
There are race car wheels, air tanks, pressure gages, helmets, water bottles, any number of socket wrenches, and many, many, very fast sports cars.
These enthusiasts are here for business.
Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley is a popular event venue for autox enthusiasts in the Northern California area. For DMC, this is the closest place to go for autox, Kang said.
The San Francisco chapter of the Sports Car Club of America, which rented out the area for the event, is one of several organizations designating competition eligibility for individuals throughout the United States.
The chapter is stacked with Davis graduates: Megan Francavilla, Glen Anderson, Mark Mervich and Steve Cooper are all high-level SCCA officials responsible for managing key aspects of the event.
I came to the event expecting NASCAR.
Autox is not NASCAR.
On the plus side, the cars do not drive endlessly in circles. On the down side, there are no explosions, barrel rolls, or gruesome fiery deaths.
Nineteen years’ worth of Mazda Miatas and flocks of ’89 Honda Civics make up the bulk of the cars. These cars are ideal for autox because their lightweight frames make them extremely efficient at navigating sharp corners while maintaining high speeds.
It really humbles when you see [Honda Civics] beat out a top of the line Corvette, and it’s a testament to the amount of skill involved in autox, Kang said.
Competitors are required to volunteer in at least one round. Volunteers are responsible for picking up knocked over cones and waving the red flag to temporarily halt the race in case of a spin out.
The meat of volunteering, however, consists in standing around, watching the cars and talking about cars.
It’s nice, Kang said. We basically just talk about cars all day, no girlfriends, no wives, no church.
With volunteering out of the way, I get an opportunity for my first hands on autox experience.
My first ride is with Navid Kahangi, a nationally ranked driver. The real deal. His car bears little resemblance to its original design. The carbon fiber seats hug you so tightly they’re practically built-in seat belts.
Thirty-three seconds later, I’m stepping out of the car still not sure what happened.
My second ride – with an amateur on his third-ever run – gives me a bit more time to comprehend the sport.
It also gives me the chance to appreciate the difference between an expert and a novice. I was stretching out and yawning at the 45-second mark with at least five seconds to go.
In my last race of the day, Kang sits in the passenger seat to coach DMC events coordinator Luis Loza through his first run of the day.
In the back seat, I sit through 45 seconds of Kang yelling, Gas! Gas! Gas! Gas! Turn in! Gas! Gas! Slalom! Gas! Break! Gas! Gas! Gas!
At the day’s end, Kang and Brattesani took third and fifth in their respective classes. They were members of the original, unofficial DMC started in 2005, which despite a following of over 150 members, gradually dissolved completely by 2007.
Kang does not want to repeat this.
The 70-plus member DMC has plans for the upcoming Picnic Day Parade. And the club’s recent acquisition of a first-generation Mazda RX-8 rotary-engine, fully-built racecar makes participation easier than ever. DMC can be contacted via the web at davismsports.com.
CHARLES HINRIKSSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX